Saturday, 15 August 2009


It's a while since you've had a full-scale rant from me and I feel it's been too long. How you have managed, I have no idea. Wait no more: I feel the need to share a little thing that has been bugging me since a book launch I went to a while ago. Let's not be precise about the exact date and let's not go anywhere with the name or genre, because I do not wish publicly to embarrass the author, who should be embarrased enough all by herself. I'll just say that once I was in London and found myself persuaded.

Tomorrow evening, I am going to a launch which will not be crappy. Lin Anderson, gruesome crime-writer par excellence (gruesome crime, not gruesome writer) is launching her new book in the Edinburgh Book Festival and I am going. Partly to cast my eagle eye over the tent because that's where the Soc of Authors party is being held and I need to forestall any glitches which would otherwise come back to haunt me. Partly because I've been asked to another party immediately after it (God, my life is dull) in the same venue so I won't even have to damage my pink suede shoes by walking anywhere. But mainly because it will be a good do and Lin is the consummate professional.

Unlike the author whose launch I took time out of my day to support. Little did she care. I tried to talk to her and say well done but I just got a slit-eyed glare and a miraculous disappearing act. Had my reputation preceded me? Did I kick her with my pointy shoes? No, I missed that chance. Next time, next time ...

Now, when it's your first book, there are lots of things that you can do wrong at your launch and get away with, like being nervous and shy. Nervous and shy can be very endearing. I remember a debut author's launch when there was barely a dry eye in the house, so endearingly nervous and shy was she. You could tell that she had really taken trouble - she'd spent time working out something nice to say and how to thank the various people "without whose help and support" etc etc. Yes, she was shaking with nerves, but she looked at us. Yep and yay, she looked at us. And smiled. Even one of those two would have been enough.

But rude author did neither of those things.

See, there are crappy things that no one should ever do at one's own launch (or in fact anyone's). A sensible publisher should never let a new author loose on a book launch without some timely advice.

Now rather than personalise this, because I really don't want to, let me stop talking about that launch and just talk about launchy mistakes in general, mistakes that can be made and indeed have been made at book launches. In the spirit of helping you achieve a happy launch when your time comes, I give you my simple guide to:

"How to make a good impression at your first book launch."
  • of course you will invite lots of your own friends: lovely! But please ask them not to be rude to the staff or to the established authors there, who have come to support you, and who may well have better things to do. Those authors wish you well - usually - but you won't get many chances. Earn your place; earn your friendships. Or live to rue the day you were so frigging rude.
  • prepare something to say - you don't have to be a stand-up comic: just say a few words about how happy and how grateful you are. Because you should be.
  • prepare a little bit to read; and damned well practise it, often, until you can actually read it in a way that people will listen to while they're standing up with warm wine in their hands (it's always warm, even when it starts cold - it's not the host's fault ...). And, while, you are reading, look up.
  • smile modestly, occasionally. Or even often.
  • don't drink too much wine before you speak
  • if anyone from your publishing company comes, show gratitude. If two people come, be seriously flattered.
  • when your editor says fabulous things and compares you to JK Rowling, realise that this is what editors do. It means sod all**. It does not mean you're going to be really really successful, or even a bit. It means they're living on dreams and couldn't think of anything else to say. And it also means that everyone in the room who actually knows about publishing is trying not to laugh. (**For Lynn's sake, I should stress that it's only the JKR bit that means sod all - all the other lovely things your editor says are most likely true. Even when they are being paid to say it.)
  • if anyone buys your books, be grateful; spare them some time to chat and SMILE; thank them for coming
  • and never, ever, ever play the prima donna. You've got to be stupendously good to get away with it. Actually, to be honest, you'll never get away with it. No one ever does. You may sell books but people will say crappy things behind your back and then blog about you.
The people you meet at your launch are people who gave up some time to support you. They did not come for the free drink and pretzels.

Thing is - back to that launch ... - I had a look at the book, read a few sentences. But all I heard when I tried to read a few words was the author's voice.

And I didn't buy it. Frankly, I wouldn't read it if you gave it to me.


Lexi said...

Thanks - a really handy list of tips which I only hope I will need to refer to at some time in the future...

Welshcake said...

I promise to be good if I ever have a launch party.

I'm curious, though - is the author's book doing well?

David Griffin said...

Thank you; that was interesting reading. I'm sure I'd be my usual polite self if I ever got to the stage of having a book launch on my behalf.

My only worry would be offending people as far as not remembering their names (even if they've told me it ten minutes before); I'm terrible like that...

Helena Halme said...

Jane (just joking :)) Nicola, This is so valid. I've been to a couple of book launches of first timers and some have been dreadful. The last one with a talented and nice author,Lucy Christopher was so lovely because she took the time to talk to everybody. It works. I'm promoting her book here.

Catherine Hughes said...

Helena - you added an 's' into Lucy's website address - should be Hope you don't mind me picking that up as I have read 'Stolen' and it is a wonderful, wonderful book. She sounds like a nice person, too.

Nicola - can't believe authors behave badly at launches. I swear, here and now, if I am ever lucky enough to have one of those I will be nice.

Actually, I will probably be incapacitated by sheer disbelief, but I'll be nice at the same time!

Nicola Morgan said...

Catherine - thanks for sorting that out: I too discovered that the link didn't work but didn't discover why. I will definitely go and look and wish her lots of luck for being so nice.

I did at first think that this author was just affected by nerves, but I am led to believe that this didn't explain it sufficiently.

David - you and me both. I hope no one has ever been offended by me forgetting their name. I often have to say "So, what name will I sign the book to?" but the problem is they sometimes say "Oh, just to me". Not helpful.

welshcake - well, I haven't seen it in a shop ...

Everyone - you shall go to your own ball, really.

Hodmandod said...

I was trembling just reading your post. Had my debut book launch last month and felt extremely shy, like I did at my wedding going in to a room full of people with short skirts on, while wearing a long one - with a train as well. EEEK! Anyway, I tried to talk to everyone in person. My publisher decided against a speech, but I published what he would have said (which was lovely) in my blog. Now hoping I did not make any of the mistakes you list and thinking feverishly.

BuffySquirrel said...

There's at least one family member I would never invite to anything, as I just know they'd go into a tantrum over some imagined slight. *shudder*

What is it with the hyphenated adjectives today? Gruesome-crime writer. :D

behlerblog said...

when your editor says fabulous things and compares you to JK Rowling, realise that this is what editors do. It means sod all... It means they're living on dreams and couldn't think of anything else to say. And it also means that everyone in the room who actually knows about publishing is trying not to laugh.
Ouch, you silly Morgan woman. I'll have you know that I never blow smoke out my Victoria Secrets when I attend one of our author's launches. I truly love our books and can remember everything I was thinking when I stamped my little feet at the submission committee meetings saying that I'd hold my breath until they agreed with me.

On the other hand, it might very well be that others in the room *are* holding in their laughter; that tends to happen when I have toilet paper stuck to my shoe.

catdownunder said...

May I add another word of advice?
"Miaou clearly" or, in human terms, "speak up and speak out". The audience has come to hear what you have to say. Obvious? Then why in the heck don't people do it?

Ebony McKenna. said...

More sensational advice, and I shall be on my bestest behaviour when it's my turn.

I'm sure to talk WAY too much and WAY too fast at the launch, just from sheer excitement. Will I be smiling? You bet!

Nicola Morgan said...

Hodmandod - you sound like the "endearingly nervous and shy" variety, which is perfectly ok and even expected.

Ebony, on the other hand, is far from nervous and shy, but sheer excitement is equally good!

Catdownunder - you are so right.

Lynn - you are lucky (and right, obviously). Thing is, a particular editor at a particular launch I had in my mind at that moment was not so lcuky. No, really, it was the comparison to JKR meaning sod all that I meant.

BuffyS - I guess we all have one of those ... (I think the rude author might have invited all hers in one horrible fell swoop)

And to all the people who emailed me off blog to ask who it was - no, no, no, no, no. Not even if you get me drunk

Stephanie said...

Great advice!! Thanks so much!!! If I am ever lucky enough to get to that point in my career...I will remember your words!!!

Nancy Coffelt said...

Thank you so much for this. I'll have my first launch this fall. I've had many gallery shows for my art so hopefully I've learned to let manners trump nervousness.

Still nervous though...

I'd be less nervous if I had
pointy-toed pink suede shoes, I think.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Wonderful advice! I have a book launch next weekend and I'll certainly keep your comments in mind. Thanks for sharing. :)

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